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Five You Can Drive: Salt Spring Island's hidden treasures

Lee Carney, Food Editor for Vancouver Observer, escaped to beautiful Salt Spring Island, home to some of the best hiking trails in the Gulf Islands, unique farmers' market, excellent wineries and a network of fine hotels. "It's the place to be on a summer weekend," says Lee. This is the fourth of VO's "Five You Can Drive" series: amazing vacation destinations you can reach within a day from Vancouver, BC, sponsored by Ford Escape.

Owen Hooper, one of the next generation of talented musicians from Salt Spring Island, playing at The Treehouse Cafe

Salt Spring Islanders refer to their home as "an argument surrounded by water", an ode to the residents' generally far-left politics and a highly unusual governance structure.

This leads to some seemingly self-defeating planning decisions (like the Salt Spring Island Coffee Company leaving the island when denied permission to expand their operations). But the near complete lack of commercial and large scale residential development makes Salt Spring an incredibly interesting place to visit.

The Saturday Market in Ganges

Salt Spring Island is the most populated of the Gulf Islands with approximately 10,000 full-time residents. That number swells in the summer when the Salt Spring diaspora return to their summer homes. Ferries that are deserted in winter resemble teeming Indian trains. Restaurants in Salt Spring's largest city, Ganges, become incredibly busy as tourists flock to visit one of the most beautiful and tranquil destinations in the Pacific Northwest.

The Fulford Valley on Salt Spring Island as seen from the top of Mt. Erskine

The Salt Spring Market, popular with locals and tourists alike, is the place to be on a summer weekend. Showcasing the products of hundreds of local artists, craftspeople, musicians and farmers, the market's one iron clad rule is that everything sold within must have been made on Salt Spring Island. No plastic iPhone cases or Hello Kitty socks here -- just handmade soaps, jewelry, carvings, clothing, musical instruments, fruits, vegetables and prepared foods produced by a community rich in talent and brimming with good intentions and sincerity.

Music is one of Salt Spring Island's strongest attractions. Drawing inspirations from Island residents Randy Bachman, Raffi, Tom Hooper of The Grapes of Wrath, John Lefebvre, and Valdy (Phil Collins has a summer home on Salt Spring as well) and with several world class recording studios to use, it's no wonder the Island has a music scene that dwarves that of much larger cities.

The Treehouse Cafe

Beginning in May and running continuously for 125 days, live music can be enjoyed in one of the most iconic and enjoyable venues you will ever visit: The Treehouse Cafe. Built literally around a giant plum tree in the centre of Ganges, this restaurant-cum-concert theatre offers a delightful menu featuring local organic dishes with many excellent vegan and vegetarian options. It's the perfect place to enjoy some of the local musical talent while you soak up Salt Spring Island's laid back vibe. 

The view from the patio at Moby's, one of the best live music venues on Salt Spring Island

If your taste in music runs to more up-tempo performers, look no further than Moby's Pub. Located a short stroll east of downtown Ganges, Moby's is where you'll find locals and visitors alike dancing the night away. Don't let the packed house on weekends deter you. Salt Springers take their summer partying seriously but the vibe is friendly and there's always room for one more on the dance floor.

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